Today might be a federal holiday, but there's little doubt that scores of politicians are keeping a close eye on the news, as they wait to hear whether lobbyist Jack Abramoff has copped a plea with federal prosecutors. In August, Abramoff was indicted on charges of conspiracy and fraud in relation to gambling interests in Florida. The district court judge hearing the case, Paul C. Huck, has scheduled a "status hearing" for Tuesday, and the buzz around Washington is that a plea deal may be struck at any moment before then.
Both Republican and Democratic legislators are already tripping over themselves in their hurry to return Abramoff-connected money. In an election year in which the taint of corruption is expected to play a big role in the fight for congressional seats, any whiff of Abramoff is about as welcome in Washington as an endorsement from Sauron, the Dark Lord of Mordor.
For the most recent bit of outstanding reporting into how Abramoff and his pals conducted their business, the first must-read story of the new year is a Washington Post article published on the last day of the old year. Perhaps most interesting for its delineation of ties between former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and Abramoff, the piece is also extraordinary for the glimpses it gives of how Washington currently works. From Marianas Islands textile companies looking to fight legislation that might boost their labor costs to Russian oil and gas executives seeking favors from the U.S. to Choctaw Indian gambling interests anxious to quash potential rivals, the story is mindbendingly complex.
And yet, the basic point is quite simple: Abramoff was the new millennium's greatest bag man, rounding up cash from all over the world to buy off U.S. politicians. As the new year continues, let's hope that the scrutiny never flags.